A series of recent decisions by Common Pleas judges in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties could have wide-ranging implications on DUI sentencing in Pennsylvania. At least four Common Pleas judges in those counties have recently held that it is unconstitutional to consider a defendants’ prior acceptance of ARD as a prior DUI conviction, and to impose second-offense mandatory minimum DUI sentences as a result. The courts which issued these rulings found that the statute mandating treatment of an ARD acceptance as a prior conviction violates the due process, equal protection, separation of powers, and/or bill of attainder clauses of the federal and state constitutions.
The practical effect of these decisions is that defendants who would have received mandatory minimum sentences of at least 90 days in prison have instead received only the 72-hour mandatory minimum sentence applicable to first offense, highest tier DUI convictions. For many people, the difference between serving 90 days v.s. 3 days is the difference between keeping or losing a job, a home, or custody of a child. Since thousands of people accept ARD each year for DUI offenses, these decisions could potentially affect the sentences (and lives) of thousands of people in Pennsylvania.
To date, the recent decisions have not been reviewed on appeal by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, so they are not binding on other Courts of Common Pleas judges, and each defendant will need to independently and successfully litigate the constitutional issues in order to avoid the higher mandatory minimum sentence applicable to second offense DUIs. If you were accepted into ARD for a past DUI and have been charged with a second DUI, it is important to retain counsel who is familiar with these decisions and prepared to litigate the constitutional arguments they are based on.
If you or someone you know needs assistance regarding DUI laws and sentencing, contact Damien D. Brewster, Esq. at Keenan, Ciccitto & Associates, LLP.